Tag Archives: money

Nationalism, Governments and Currency.

The political left has always been suspicious of nationalism. Certainly it is easy to think of examples where nationalism has been taken to extremes with disastrous results. However we do, like it or not, all have to recognise we live in nation states. We might consider ourselves citizens of the world, or citizens of Europe or whatever, but that has to go along with being a citizen of a particular country too.

The traditional model is that we have a country, a government and a currency to go with it which is essentially an IOU of that government. So, for example, we have a country called Vietnam with its own government which issues a currency called the Dong. A neighbouring country, Cambodia, has its own separate government and uses the Riel. You might want to remember these names if you are into pub quizzes!

The people of Cambodia and Vietnam could, if they chose to, unite into a single country, have  a single government and a unified currency. That could make sense, but it would be entirely up to them to decide to do that. What would make much less sense is for them to try to share a currency without unifying their countries. The power of being able to control a currency is very considerable but not easily shareable. If we write our own IOUs as a settlement of a debt we want those IOUs to be unique. We don’t want anyone else writing them out on our behalf. So if Vietnam and Cambodia were to try sharing a currency it probably would not work at all well. There would soon be a dispute over how many IOUs each could create and the two countries would revert to separate currencies very quickly.

This is a similar pattern the world over. Canada has a different dollar from the USA. Australia has a different dollar from New Zealand and so on. There are seemingly some exceptions. Ecuador uses the US dollar. But it cannot create any US dollars of its own. Only the USA can do that, and as many as it likes to stimulate its own economy when needed. That puts Ecuador at a big disadvantage. I would recommend them to introduce their own currency! There is a similar situation in Puerto Rico which also uses the US dollar. But Puerto Rico is not considered part of the USA. If that were to change it would make much more sense for them to use the US dollar. Puerto Rico citizens would become American citizens and pay taxes to the US Federal Govt and receive the benefits of spending by the Federal Government. There would probably be more spending than taxation just as there is in other less affluent US States.  Then they would be truly sharing a currency and not just using someone else’s.

So one way we can define our own feelings of nationalism is by asking ourselves who we would like to share a currency, and a government, with. At present we, in the UK, share a currency, which we call the pound, between the countries of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  Other parts of the world, like Gibraltar and the Channel Islands use the pound but do not share the pound and so are not part of the United Kingdom. If Scotland were to become independent it could not share the pound, it could only use the pound. I am not sure if those Scottish nationalists who argue for a shared currency really appreciate the difference or the potential difficulty.

The big exception in the eurozone. We’ll look at that, and the problems it has, next.

The UK Autumn Budget Statement – More Neoliberal Nonsense!

The Autumn statement would not be so bad if it was economically coherent, with the spending and taxing plans agreeable, or otherwise, according to one’s political opinion. However, it does not make any sense. Not only does it not “add up”, it is inconsistent with all the principles of arithmetic.

The right wing Tory MP John Redwood makes the point :

“In total the new estimates show us paying an extra £105 billion in tax over the five years”

George Osborne says:

” we will reach a surplus of £10.1 billion in 2019/20″

Note: it’s not just “about £10 billion” its  “£10.1 billion”. We’ve all got to admire just how precise George and his Treasury economists can be about these five year forecasts! As if !

There’s no chance of this happening with the UK running a ~ £90 billion deficit in its external deficit due to trade and other international payments.  It would mean that the UK economy would have to find ~ £100 billion every year to pay the import bill and also provide the government with its £10 billion surplus.

This, presumably, is close enough to John Redwood’s ” extra £105 billion in tax”?

George Osborne says that  “Britain will be out of the red and into the black” which is completely untrue. These figures mean the British economy will be in the red to the extent of ~£100 billion to pay for the Govt being ~£10 billion in the black,  and Britain’s overseas trading partners being ~£90 billion in the black.

It can’t possibly happen that way,  unless somehow the trade deficit can be turned into a trade surplus, and that aspect is totally ignored in George Osborne’s grand plan. The UK economy could not sustain a net loss of £100 billion even for one year – never mind on an annual basis. George Osborne will only send the economy into a downward spiral trying to achieve the impossible. An economy in a depressed state will also deliver depressed levels of taxation revenue.

In a couple of years time, the excuse for the plan failing , as it inevitably will , is likely to be that even though the Government has kept spending under control, taxation revenues will have not come in as expected. This will be attributed to: Problems in the eurozone, problems with world trade, problems with loss of revenue from North Sea oil, a new war in the Middle East maybe?

In other words, the same kind of ‘excuses’ as were put forward after the last similar plan failed, in the years following the Tory win in 2010, except the Govt could blame the Lib Dems then! If the Government cared to look for a reason, rather than an excuse, they would explain that their deficit has to be the sum of what everyone else saves. They don’t have direct control of that.

There’s a saying , usually incorrectly attributed to Einstein, about doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results, being a sign of madness.  Are the Tories mad, though, or just plain bad?

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Why not give control of the fiscal deficit to the Bank of England?

In a democratic society, I would argue that decisions regarding interest rates, both long and short term, should be made by the elected government. They used to be. However, for nearly 20 years, short term rates in the UK have been set by the BoE. The level of short term interest rates is important and it can be adjusted to stimulate a slowing economy or slow an overstimulated economy. But there are other adjustments that can be made too.

Just as a pilot has all the control levers at his disposal when he’s flying a plane (if he, or she, does hand over to the co-pilot it would be all the controls not just one) then all the controls need to be either in the hands of government or the hands of the central bank.

But just who has the controls when it comes to controversial policy decisions like QE? Does an  independent Bank of England decide, all on its own, to buy up £375 billion of government securities from the private financial sector? I don’t think so!

QE is no big deal. That’s not a common view, I’ll agree, but from a scientific perspective, there seems to be no reason why the issue of government , or the BoE if you prefer, IOUs in the form of cash should be any more or less inflationary to the economic system than the issue of IOUs in the form of gilts (treasury bonds). If it is necessary to buy back gilts from the private sector to control longer term interest rates then that’s what needs to happen.

So why not give control of the fiscal deficit to the BoE too? The BoE could calculate the best combination of fiscal and monetary policy, including whatever level of QE is needed, and tell the government what it needs to do. Arguably the government could decide to raise income tax a bit here or reduce VAT a bit there , etc, but it would not have complete control of fiscal policy as it now does.

This is not my favoured option BTW. But, if the pilot is going to hand over the (macroeconomic) controls to his or her co-pilot it should be all the controls and not just one.